Maxwell L.

"My fondest memory was the bond with my teacher and between classmates. My closest friends from UW are from Arabic class."


Major(s) and Certificate(s): Major in Political Science; Certificate in Chican@ and Latin@ Studies

Language(s): Arabic and Spanish

Graduation Year: 2013

What motivated you to study these languages?

My parents encouraged me to start taking Spanish lessons around 3rd grade, and I continued studying through college. My father lived in Mexico for a few years before I was born and we traveled there growing up. As for Arabic, when September 11th happened, I felt our country made a mistake rushing to war with multiple countries in the Middle East. My parents raised me to connect with other cultures and religions, and it was a huge let down.

I started writing speeches about the wars for middle school forensics, and vowed to study Arabic to better connect with Islam and the Middle East. After I graduated high school, I studied Arabic intensively at Beloit College for a summer before taking classes at UW-Madison. My teachers were all from different areas in Africa and the Middle East, and I learned so much not only about their cultures, but the politics of the region. That’s part of why I went on to study political science.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?

My fondest memory was the bond with my teacher and between classmates. My closest friends from UW are from Arabic class. In fact, we just celebrated one of our weddings this year and it was quite the reunion. I am not sure exactly why we were so close, I think it was partly due to the intense nature of the class. We studied late into the night and held weekly get togethers. Two of my friends from class had a weekly show on WSUM and they invited us on to discuss politics. We were always talking about big ideas, and I miss that about UW.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences? How did they add to your undergraduate experience/coursework?

I lived in the International Learning Community my sophomore year, and founded a student organization related to a political issue in the Middle East. Both experiences deepened my knowledge and appreciation for Islam and Middle East countries and cultures.

What have you done in a professional capacity since graduating from UW-Madison?

Since graduating, I served in a variety of roles for political campaigns, non-profits, and labor unions. I am also a part-time firefighter (which may seem a bit out of left field, but grew out of an experience I had working for the firefighters union).

What are ways, either expected or unexpected, that your language study has benefited you in your career?

Ironically, I used Spanish as a firefighter more than in my political career. Just the other day I was first on scene to a vehicle roll over where the occupants were Spanish-speaking only. Although my capacity to speak Spanish has greatly diminished since college, I knew enough to help direct patient care.

I also worked for a year in municipal communications for the City of Racine. A full fourth of the city identifies as Hispanic and/or Latino and there are far more Spanish only speakers than you might imagine. My previous experiences prepared me to advocate for the need to translate documents to Spanish whenever possible.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?

Unfortunately, this is an area where I’ve fallen short. I traveled in Latin America since graduating where I practiced my Spanish, but I haven’t done any formal study. I am considering Spanish for First Responders at a local tech college next year.

What advice do you have for students who are studying language(s) about how to incorporate their interests and skills into their future goals?

Definitely keep up your language skills post graduation. I have not done a great job and I wish I had.